Add flair to holiday decorating with orchids
“Orchids are highly addictive,” says Vivian Mitchell as she describes these tropical beauties’ hold on their admirers; and it’s nothing new. For centuries, plant connoisseurs, botanists and novice gardeners have all succumbed to “orchid fever,” hypnotized by the exotic form, dazzling coloration and extraordinary rarity of these botanical treasures.
Today, advances in laboratory propagation have increased the quantity and quality of orchids and have fueled a global industry. What were once exclusive high-priced plants are now affordable for even the most casual flower enthusiast.
As greenhouse manager for highly rated Merrifield Garden Center in northern Virginia, Mitchell is very familiar with customers’ holiday buying habits throughout the Washington, D.C.- metro area, from traditional to contemporary.
“There are people who are tired of poinsettias and we have other plants — blooming cyclamen and rosemary topiary — that make nice gifts,” Mitchell says. Yet she finds orchids remain popular year-round. “Once a customer sees how easy they are to care for, they’re hooked. They buy a few more, then six,” she says with a laugh.
Another stellar feature of these plants is their extended blooming period. An example of this is the resilient and widely-popular moth orchid, which remains in bloom for at least two months and occasionally up to four months. Cut flowers and other blooming plants last a fraction of that time.
In sunny Florida, one would think orchids would be too common to be popular. On the contrary. It’s an epicenter for orchid fever. In Miami, “the orchid business is very good,” says Patricia Kyle. As the owner of highly rated Galloway Farm Nursery, Kyle says she maintains a diversified selection of plants for her customers during the holidays. “We sell a lot of poinsettias in December,” in addition to cyclamens, Kyle says. Among the colorful bromeliads, she is especially taken with a new festive cultivar, “Ardie,” displaying a red center with green edges.
Yet orchids remain strong as an elegant appointment to any holiday decor. “Phalaenopsis, especially white ones, are very popular. We offer them with twin stems and they bloom for a long time,” Kyle says. Though these orchids are easy to care for, she recommends careful use of tap water when watering. “Let it sit out overnight to allow the additives to dissipate. Or you can place several ice cubes on top of the soil about once a week.”
Your ice maker probably uses tap water, so purchased ice might be better. When you water, allow the plant to drain so there’s no standing water around the pot.B
Some people find orchids intimidating because of their scientific names. This handy reference makes it easy to identify the most popular genera:
- BRASSIA (BRASS-ee-ah) the spider orchid
- CATTLEYA (cat-LEE-ah) the corsage orchid
- DENDROBIUM (den-DRO-bee-um)with cane-like stems
- ONCIDIUM (on-SID-ee-um) with airy, arching sprays of flowers
- PHALAENOPSIS (fail-eh-NOP-sis) the moth orchid
- VANDA (VAN-da) with spoon-shaped petals
Ellen Goff is a freelance horticulture writer and photographer who’s passionate about plants, water quality and the environment. She also stays busy with her own landscape and its inhabitants along the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.